10th April 2018
Suzie* is a trans woman who, after experiencing domestic abuse, sought support from Independent Choices in Manchester which offers an LGBT+ service in partnership with the LGBT Foundation. Here she recounts her experience of domestic abuse and of meeting with Tiffany, an LGBT+ Idva.
Picture this. You’re in a marriage, one which you feel you were forced into – by family, friends and Society as a whole. You have a respectable job, a nice home and a ‘good wife’ but you are then put under immense pressure to follow suit and have children like all of your other friends. This isn’t want you wanted, but you do it anyway to keep everyone happy. To outsiders, you have the perfect life. But from a young age, you’ve always felt as if you were born into the wrong body… You’ve wanted to tell someone but have been too afraid so you internalise the pain. Life goes by, and whilst everyone around you seems to be happy in their own lives, you feel as though you’re falling deeper and deeper into a state of despair. In secret, you begin wearing your wife’s clothes, and talking to other trans people online and you become immersed in this ‘fantasy’ lifestyle which you so desperately wish was your own. You begin talking about coming out, online friends encourage you to reach out… to tell someone closest to you, to make that first step.
You have spent years imagining living as the person that you really are. You enact a conversation in your mind a million times over, of telling your wife how you feel until one day you feel confident enough to actually say it out aloud.
'I am transgender.'
And it falls on deaf ears. You say it again, and she laughs and walks off. You hear her in the kitchen on the phone talking to your sister and you can feel the fear running through your veins. What will your family say, will they tell anyone else? Will your colleagues find out? How will your children feel? Will you lose them?
Your wife has always been very dominant. She’s in charge of the finances because you can’t be trusted to get it right. She chooses who you spend time with and criticises any friends you had before her so over time they disappear. She chooses what you wear “you’re not allowed to wear pink, because you look like a fucking puff”. And for an easy life you adopt a submissive role.
But things get worse.
Life is spent feeling as if you’re walking on egg shells. She’s moody, and irritable and it’s easier to have sex than to tell her you don’t want it because you’ll be ridiculed and accused of being queer. Your mobile phone is monitored, she checks the itemised billing every month and questions every unknown number. She checks your sat nav history and if you’re a couple of minutes late all hell breaks loose. She constantly tells you to man the fuck up, and stop being such a submissive Sally.
She hits you. Once, then again and almost every day and you feel so weak inside. Your dad takes you to one side and tells you to get a grip, to be a man and act like one. There are no trannys in our family he says. And that he says is never gonna change. But you’ve said it out loud now. The fire that burns so brightly inside you is the only thing that is keeping you alive.
You try to talk to your wife again, and tell her that you can’t carry on like this. She tells you that if you make that choice, you also choose to lose your home, your children and your family and that she would rather kill you than bring shame on the family. You feel suicidal, you want this to end.
Then one night, you stumble upon a website Greater Manchester Domestic Abuse Helpline. Then you find information about their LGBT Service. It tells you that you can get help, that you’re not alone. Does that include ME? You scribble down the number and the next day you buy a pay as you go phone and you call the number and someone answers. You break down as you tell them your story.
This is the first time that someone has actually listened, their voice is soft and accepting and it makes you feel safe. You arrange to meet up, to talk about your options – before this conversation you didn’t even know that you had any. You meet an LGBT Idva, she tells you her name is Tiffany and she asks you yours. You hesitate, but quietly tell her your name is Suzie and she smiles. You’ve never said it out loud before and it feels so liberating.
Tiffany explains what Idva means and what support she can offer you. You’ve seen advertisements before, about domestic abuse services and refuges but you didn’t realise that the help they offer was open to someone that identified as transgender. You ask if they’ve helped anyone in this capacity before, they explain that its more common than you think and that although 80% of transgender individuals have experienced some form of abusive behaviour from a partner or ex-partner, only 60% recognised the behaviour as domestic abuse. Wow, you never even realised that you were part of that statistic. Together you and Tiffany look at your civil and criminal options, and she tells you that she will support you in reporting the abuse to the police.
You decide for your own safety that seeking a refuge space is the safest option right now. Do refuges accept individuals from the transgender community? And if they do, how will other people that live in the refuge react? Will you be accepted or will you be discriminated against? Are you strong enough for all of this? There’s so much to think about. Tiffany calms any fears you have and you begin to feel empowered. You complete a DASH together and it just magnifies how much abuse you have tolerated. This can’t carry on.
Tiffany explains the Marac process, and suddenly you feel as though you can finally see the light. Together, you ring a refuge out of the area that is trans inclusive, you explain your situation and they tell you that you have been accepted. Finally, you can live as Suzie – you can feel safe and you can start to envisage a life that you never thought you’d be able to live. Things aren’t always going to be easy, but you know now that you aren’t going to be alone.
*not her real name
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